You may need to polish your IP telephony skills sooner than you think. According to survey findings published in September 2001 by Sage Research, IP telephony deployments will grow considerably this year.

Quality of service issues appear to be restraining faster adoption, so it should come as no surprise that Cisco is trying to boost IT professionals’ IP telephony skills. Once an organization makes the move to IP telephony, its IT staff will be asked to design, configure, and administer IP telephony services in the enterprise.

How better to encourage the development of such skills than through new IP telephony certifications? Cisco began its effort in January when it introduced the Cisco IP Telephony Support Specialist accreditation. Then, just a few weeks ago, Cisco announced its Cisco IP Telephony Design Specialist and Cisco IP Telephony Operations Specialist certifications.

The new certifications carry heavy prerequisites and are valid for two years. Let’s examine each of these certs.

Cisco IP Telephony Support Specialist
Cisco created this certification to address the increasing demand for IT professionals who can plan, deploy, and support Cisco IP telephony products. You must hold Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) certification before you’re eligible for the Cisco IP Telephony Support Specialist accreditation.

Once you’re CCNP certified, you must pass the following three exams to earn Cisco IP Telephony Support Specialist certification:

Training courses for the exams are available from a variety of training and certification providers. The exams themselves can be taken at any Virtual University Enterprises (VUE) or Prometric testing facility.

Once you pass all three exams, you earn the certification, which is valid for two years. To maintain certification, you must again pass the current version of the applicable exams.

Cisco IP Telephony Design Specialist
The design certification tests you on your expertise in designing and implementing Cisco-powered voice-over-data networks. As a prerequisite, you must already hold Cisco Certified Design Associate (CCDA) certification. With a CCDA in hand, you then must pass two exams to earn Cisco IP Telephony Design Specialist accreditation:

Training courses that map to each exam are available from a variety of IT certification publishers. You must take the exams at a VUE or Prometric testing center. Once earned, the certification is valid for two years, at which point you must recertify by passing the respective exams again.

Cisco IP Telephony Operations Specialist
The telephony operations certification is different from the design and support accreditations in that it targets your ability to troubleshoot specific Cisco technologies. For example, it tests your ability to effectively troubleshoot Cisco’s Enterprise CallManager and Unity technologies, as well as IP networks.

Before you can try to pass the two exams required to earn Operations Specialist certification, you must earn Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) accreditation. After you earn the CCNA, you must pass the following two exams:

As with the other two IP telephony certifications, training courses are available that map to each exam, you must take the tests at VUE or Prometric training centers, and the certification must be renewed every two years.

Eckel’s take
With quality of service issues holding back the growth of IP telephony, it’s no surprise that Cisco is requiring candidates to pass the QoS exam in each of the three IP telephony certifications. Before IP telephony can really gain momentum, IT professionals need to hear from their colleagues that latency and other infrastructure issues have been eliminated. Cisco’s new IP telephony certifications will help spur such confidence. When more IT professionals have solid IP telephony skills, enterprise deployments should proceed more smoothly.

As Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) adoption increases and other IP telephony trends continue, it’s likely that you’ll have to develop an understanding of the technology, which has long eluded many IT professionals. Should you come to that bridge, Cisco’s certifications are likely to provide you with the real-world know-how you’ll need to make the most of an IP telephony deployment in your organization.